Dutch heifers plug cull gap
By Jeremy Hunt
LANCS dairy farmer Tommy Hargreaves has just returned from Holland with 32 in-calf heifers for his flying herd at Thistleton Farm, Barton, near Preston.
He has been buying Dutch heifers for four years and with the selective cull underway, hopes they will provide the necessary insurance to cover the risk of cohort losses when tracings of his bought-in UK cattle are undertaken by MAFF.
No youngstock have been reared on this 69ha (170-acre) all-grass farm for almost 20 years. A decision was taken in the late 70s and since than all replacements have been bought-in and a beef bull used over the entire herd. All beef-cross and black-and-white calves are sold.
But hefty losses of bought-in cows through BSE – 19 animals in one year – coincided with Mr Hargreaves first introduction to Dutch-imported heifers and it was not long before he was milking some of his own.
Two-thirds of his 154 black-and-white cows are now Dutch imports. "I could not buy heifers of the same quality at the same price in the UK and there is the BSE situation to consider. We have had no BSE among the imports," says Mr Hargreaves. He replaces about a quarter of the herd each year, preferring to sell cows after fourth or fifth lactations.
"I would never go back to rearing youngstock again. I would need more buildings, more staff and more acres," he says, and admits to being bitterly disappointed at losing good high yielding cows through BSE.
The 32 heifers selected averaged £1200 each delivered to the farm and included individuals at £1600 and £1700.
"That is about as much as I will pay, but there are some exceptionally good heifers among them and I still have a calf to come to discount the price a little more."
The herd average is 7779kg at 4.54% fat and 3.21% protein. Latest average for 58 heifers is 7091kg. Rationing is based on barrier-fed silage with high yielders on 1.8kg a head of a cereal-based home-mix outside and up to 9kg of an 18% concentrate in the parlour.
"Apart from the BSE risk, Dutch cattle are better value for money, particularly this year, as sterling is so strong. Dutch stock has been unfairly criticised. There is no shortage of tall and stylish heifers. We have found them to be good on their legs and feet, although I resist buying from farms where heifers are on slats no matter how good they are.
"In Holland 94% of dairy cows are pedigree, all dairy farmers have a strong commitment to pedigree breeding and using test bulls is compulsory or fines are imposed."
Sunny Boy, Etazon Celsius and Jubilant daughters are among the highest yielders. His top yielding heifer, by Jubilant, calved at exactly two years and gave 8378kg at 4.18% fat and 3.07% protein worth £2001. But despite investing in top Dutch genetics, Mr Hargreaves has still no intention of reverting back to rearing replacement heifers.
"The Dutch are definitely out-yielding UK-bred cattle but I am content to continue running a flying herd. There is plenty of stock on offer in Holland and farms we visited reckon sales are 30-40% down on the year.
"The selective cull has not started to bite yet but those who have an idea how many cows they are going to lose have either already been to Holland or are starting to order cattle. The higher summer milk price tends to make the Dutch more reluctant to sell heifers due to calve in mid-summer." *
Buying Dutch heifers to cover losses from the cohort cull is a sensible, cost-effective option, believes Lancs producer Tommy Hargreaves.
• Replaces 25% each year
• High yielding
• Good availability